Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fatalism and Impotence

I've been thinking a lot this week about fatalism and its fruit . . . impotence. Here's how my reasoning got to this point.

I've been really interested in what's happening in Egypt because I use to live there. Twenty one years ago I was sitting in a coffee shop with an Egyptian friend in downtown Cairo. He made a statement to me, "Michael . . . there's a revolution coming. Mubarak will be thrown into the street."

"When Mazen?"

"I don't know but when God wills."

An American friend said to me this week, referring to the Egyptian revolution, "No one saw that coming."

I begged to differ. I went on to explain, "When I lived in Cairo that we had a bundle of hundred dollar bills (US) hidden for our escape if the revolution started . . . and that was twenty years ago."

"Well why did it take so long?" he asked.

"Islamic fatalism" was my answer.

I had thought about that a lot. My friend Mazen's comments, "We will throw Mubarak out into the street . . . when God wills" may have been the impotence that kept Hosni in power so long. So, it was when the frustration of the people got to a kindling point, and the light of the flickering Facebook and Twitter ignited it, there was no stopping it. It was when the impotence yielded to the impetus that all hell broke loose.

Bringing this home to our Christian world, I often see the same thing. It is amazing that we get anything done. I have not been around this blog very much of late because I've been totally consumed with starting a new headache clinic. Starting a clinic is hard to do. Doing it as a PA rather than an MD is a mouse's mustache away from impossible. I've spent about 4 hours a night for many months working on this. I ran into my latest roadblock last night when the bank (whom had assured me that I would get the loan) started hedging.

I'm in a men's prayer group, which meets on Monday nights. It is part of my new church. I do really enjoy going. I've tip-toed around praying about candid things. You know, even with good Christian people, you are never safe.

A few weeks ago I prayed about my anxiety. Someone prayed after me a long prayer about how I need to learn to trust God. Really? So that's been my problem for the past 50 years . . . I've never known how to trust God?

But then I decided to share last night about how the bank is backing out and it is very disappointing. One of the men shared a story (that I think had a point) that it took him a long time to learn to stop beating on the door which God had closed? I knew that he intended that thought for me.

God closed the bank loan door? I don't think so. I can explain their decision in rational terms (but not here). So, if I would take that closure and the ten other closed doors in this process as God's act . . . I would go nuts to try and do this or try and do anything hard. It would make me a pile of impotent Jello.

I heard an ad on TV this week. I can't remember what it was about. But, they played the tape by John Kennedy saying that he was committing American to going to the moon. Then he added in his Bostonian accent, "We are doing this not because it is easy . . . but because it is hard." Is it now against Christian principles to do anything hard? Is it really against Christian principles to struggle and have gnashing of teeth in the process? I know that when I came home, just having hearing that the bank was hedging (after counting on this for months) I told Denise that I was depressed. I could see the silent anger in her eyes. "Who are you to have the right to be depressed," she said. I tried to get away from that conversation as fast as I could.

I have to remember that I grew up in a family where the extreme expression of emotion was common, anger, depression, grief, crying, throwing things, and great laughter. The laughter was the most common. Denise grew up in a culture where emotional words were not used, hate, love . . . or depression. My kids, when they were young, called Denise's family the museum people. They felt like grandma's was a museum and the people wax figures. To be fair, my kids called my family dysfunctional. Both sides have their strengths and their weaknesses. I prayed about this aspect of my marriage too. The men are probably confident that we are near divorce because in Christian circles you NEVER talk or pray about abrasions in your marriage . . . unless you are near divorce. I can almost guarantee that Denise and my marriage are far more stable and good than any of the other's in the group. But I digress once again.

So why can't we ever talk about doing the hard things, or the doors that close and then you beat the hell out of it until it opens for your. I think that is very liberating to know that we have the right to struggle. There is a time when you give up, but you don't give up in the face of surmountable barriers, but insurmountable ones and wisdom is knowing the difference.

I challenge you to go into any church or any Christian circle and start telling a true story in your life where all the doors didn't magically open but it seemed like each door was closed and you kept pushing ahead in spite of the difficulty. Sooner or later someone will rebuke you for fighting against God. There is something wrong with even the Christian brand of fatalism.

I saw that imonk had one of my type of postings, about decision making. I wish I could have read the posts and participated. But I've been consumed with my effort in the clinic-starting war.

I did e-mail Mazen the first day of the riots. "Mazen, is this it? Is this the big revolution?"

He answered back simply, "Enshalla."


Eagle said...

MJ..I know you are busy, but I want to let you know how much I enjoy reading yoru blog. On a daily basis I regularly check it to see if it contains new thoughts!! Please don't feel like others arn't interested. There's an agnostic in Washington, D.C. who loves to follow this blog (as one of many...) as I try and figure out what happened to me spiritually and can I, or will I believe in God again?

Are you saying in your posting that you are running into the same problems in your new church that you did in your old? I don't pray anymore as I don't know if God exists, but prayer for me when I did pray seemed to be nothing but "God please do this..." and "Please do that Lord...". Those Christians whose faith hasn't tipped yet have been in situations I would suggest where things have gone the way they hoped.

jmj said...

Eagle you are always welcome here.

Regarding the new church vs the old church I will clarify. I am very, very happy with my new church. The biggest difference is that the old church stood entirely in the the conservative evangelical end of the spectrum. This new church, by its own admission, has a very broad spectrum and there is a tolerable of grace that allows for different perspectives.

Like things I shared here, there is no perfect Christian group or church. In my men's prayer group there is also a spectrum. I know a couple that are as right wing as they can be (actually one of those doesn't even attend my new church but comes to this men's prayer group). There are others in the group that think far more like me. So, because I see the problem being in the Evangelical culture, those cultural problems will exist in my new church to some agree because many of those people live or have lived within that culture.

But, I will say that that I am happier in my new church than I expected to be at this point.

Anonymous said...

...an agnostic in Washington, D.C. who loves to follow this blog (as one of many...)

And a middle-aged Furry and wannabe SF writer in SoCal, too.

Headless Unicorn Guy

P.S. Check out Internet Monk the past couple days (Jan 31 - Feb 1 or so). He's doing a series on the idea of Christian Transformation -- and the Evangelical corollary that "transformation" means Instantaneous Total Transformation as soon as you Get Saved. You've written a lot on that subject, and I'd like to see you ring in on the thread.

Anonymous said...

Back to the original post, one of my writing contacts was involved in a church in Louisville that was very into Predestination Uber Alles. He reported many of the same symptoms that have plagued Islam throughout its history:

1) Basic Fatalism and Impotence -- "Why bother doing anything? God's Will Be Done."

2) Denial of cause and effect --
"God Willed my fist to lash out, then God Willed your nose to hurt and bleed; No Connection Whatsoever."

3) Lack of self-control among the top heirarchy -- "What we want MUST be God's Will, otherwise we wouldn't Wanna."

4) Perfect Excuse Machine and inability to learn from mistakes when (3) blows up in the face -- "Not My Fault! God Willed It!"

Result -- as happens when you resolve the Paradox of Evil by putting God beyond Good and Evil: An Omnipotent God, but NOT a Benevolent One. And the fallout cascades on...

Headless Unicorn Guy

Hippimama said...

Very interesting post, MJ.

My husband is presently in Africa, doing relief work and has run into this attitude in the hospital where he is working. He tries to implement treatment protocols for patients, which are ignored; he constantly faces appalling apathy on the part of patients' families and their providers. At first he thought they didn't care, but later realized it's a learned helplessness -- the causes of which may be partly due to world-view, but partly situational -- these poor folks just haven't been able to exercise any kind of dominion in their lives for way too long, and so feel that anything they might try to do makes no difference. I'm not sure what the answer is -- maybe a combination of personal and political change.

jmj said...

Thanks for your comments. I've read them all and totally agree. I'm having early morning meetings and late at night meetings and never have time to write.

I do see that iMonk is having some interesting discussions. I wish I had the time to write more. I'll be back soon